Previously we have seen that the Roman governor Festus and the Jewish king Agrippa agreed that Paul could have been set free, had he not appealed to Caesar (26:32). And so the voyage to Rome begins. A Roman centurion, named Julius, of the Augustan cohort (a regiment stationed in Caesarea) is put in charge to deliver Paul to Rome.
They were being accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian whom we first met in Acts 19:29. He, along with Gaius was said to be one of Paul’s travel companions. He is also mentioned in Acts 20:4. In Colossians 4:10 he is mentioned as being Paul’s fellow prisoner, and in the short letter to Philemon, written from prison in Rome he is mentioned in the final greetings (Philemon 23).
Also notice the ‘we’ in 27:1 and following. Luke, the writer of the Acts includes himself in this journey.
The route takes them by way of a coastal route, and the first port of call is Sidon, not far from Caesarea. After a short layover at Sidon where Paul is allowed to go ashore to be cared for among his friends there, the journey continues on the leeward side of Cyprus, struggling somewhat against the prevailing westerly winds until they reach the port of Myra in Cilicia (Paul was born in Tarsus, Cilicia). In Myra they change ships. The ship which they are now boarding came from Alexandria in Africa and it was sailing to Italy (v.6). This journey proved to be difficult from the start. The winds were now directly against them. You can’t sail into the wind. The best sailing is done when the wind is from behind you. The next best option is when it is coming from the side, in which case you have to engage in a manoeuver call tacking. Luke records that the journey proceeds with difficulty until they arrive at the port of Cnidus and then down to Salmone on the island of Crete and on to Fair Havens near Lasea on the island of Crete. The problem here was that this was not a good harbour to winter in. The ship would not enjoy safe anchorage there. From ancient shipping history we learn that sailing in this part of the Mediterranean after September 14 was considered to be dangerous, and after November it was considered to be impossible. It's already mid-October. Luke records that the Fast – i.e. the Feast of Atonement (celebrated by the Jews each year in September-October) has already passed (v.9). Paul is nervous about the sailing conditions. He has crossed this sea on numerous occasions and seasons and he knows some of its dangers. In 2 Corinthians 11:25 he tells us, “Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.” He had suffered shipwreck 3 times before! This was most likely his fourth experience. What a hazardous undertaking it was to cross the sea in those days!
Here we see that Paul, with his considerable experience warns the owner and the captain that it would not be wise to proceed (vv.10,11). But they are between a rock and a hard place, it seems. The majority thinks it’s better to push on to Phoenix, a harbour in Crete, further up the coast, and off they sailed. The south wind (ideal sailing conditions ) began to blow gently (v.13), and we imagine someone saying, “You see, the Lord is with us.” Now, that illustrates the fact, that circumstances are not reliable guides for Christians. “When the south wind blew gently ” might have suggested that ‘God is in this’, but as it turned out, he was not. They should have listened to God’s man, God’s voice on the boat! And it is so tragic that so many of us take our cues and leadings from ‘little signs’ and ‘cues’ and mystic leadings, but we are not anchored enough in the Word of God, and do not trust the wisdom of our appointed leaders enough in such situations where sensible guidance is to be sought. Jesus warns us not to judge by mere appearances (Jn. 7:24); He warns us not to judge according to the flesh (Jn. 8:15). Proverbs 14:12 counsels us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And moreover we ought to make greater use of that great gift of God which is sometimes called ‘sanctified common sense’. Common sense at that time dictated that this was a dangerous sailing season. Do you get the drift? (Forgive the pun!)
And then a tempestuous wind (anemos tuphōnikos- tuphon, from which the word typhoon originates) also known as the northeaster (eurokludōn) came up (v.14)! The ship is basically taken out to sea … driven along (v.15). In this state they continued for 14 days (v.27). By now they have no idea where they are, and there comes a point at which they (there are 276 souls in the ship- v. 37) begin to lose all hope (v.20). The Mediterranean has continued to be the graveyard of many, in our day we hear particularly of African migrants trafficked by ruthless men from Africa to Europe. They, in their less than seaworthy boats are always at the mercy of this sea that is known for its unpredictable climate and winds. And so it is, with no hope and no food. It is time for Paul to say something. And he says, “You should have listened to me. I told you this would happen!” (v.21). We have no reason to believe that he said this in a self-righteous manner.
Take note of the words that follow in vv. 22-26, “Take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” And why was Paul able to say this with confidence? Because of what follows in vv. 23-26. He knew without a doubt that their lives were in God’s hands. God appeared to Paul in the form of an angel, and with the angel came a two- fold assurance: (i) you must testify before Caesar (ii) God has granted you all those who sail with you. Their lives were in God’s hands.
After the 14th day adrift in the Mediterranean, the circumstances begin to change. The sailors suspected that they might be nearing land (v.27). Maybe they heard the pounding of the surf. And they began to prepare themselves for shipwreck. Some aboard wanted to stow away in a small boat – a dinghy, and when Paul saw this , he warned them that they would suffer the loss of their lives. Wisely they listen to Paul this time and let go of the boat. They will not survive if they do not stay in God’s hands.
Another practical matter: Faith is practical. Paul encouraged them to eat, so that they would have strength to negotiate the shipwreck and the strenuous effort of getting ashore (v. 33). Cooking had been impossible for the last 14 days . Who has much appetite in the midst of a violent storm on a ship? My own experience as a young boy on a small fishing trawler in storm season between Walvis Bay and Cape Town confirms this. But Paul says, “You need to eat! Get your strength up.” Once again, this is practical or ‘sanctified’ common sense. What a gift from God to have a man in their midst who saw issues clearly, and can give directions and leadership, when others were making bad decisions (like leaving the ship) and not taking care of their bodies.
But more significantly Paul now assures the crew and passengers of a spiritual directive and assurance which he received from God … ‘not a hair is to perish from their head.’ Their lives are in God’s hands. Note the prayer associated with the handing out of the bread. Paul gave thanks for the food (v.35). In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18)
In vv. 39-41 we find the account of the shipwreck. Initially the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners. But Julius the centurion, who by this time clearly had developed a soft spot for Paul, forbade that. As the ship hits the surf and begins to break up it's every man for himself. Those who could swim were ordered to head for land. Those that could not swim were told to hold onto planks or pieces of the ship and drift ashore. And so v. 44 records, “it was that all were brought safely to land.” What a wonderful providence. Paul is vindicated again in his words.
THREE VITAL LESSONS from the KEY TEXT in vv. 23-25
1. V. 23. the true nature of our life in Christ. “For there stood by me this night an angel of God, to whom I belong and whom I worship.” He belonged to the Lord. Paul regarded his whole being as belonging to the Lord. Dear Christian friend, you will most enjoy your Christian life when you recognize that you belong to the Lord, and that all of your activities are part of your reasonable spiritual service to God.
2. V. 24 The doctrine of divine fore-ordination of all things: We know that this journey (inclusive of some real crises) must be a success, because Paul must stand before Caesar.
3. V.25 Concerning the true nature of faith. “Take heart men, for I have faith in God” that it will be exactly as I have been told.“ True faith is simply the acceptance of the teaching of the word of God.
So Paul, in the midst of the storm, with all its challenges knew that the true Captain of this boat was not the captain and the crew. His life was not in the hands of Julius the centurion. His life was in the hands of God. He was the captain of His soul and Master of his destiny.
These are lessons from the storm. There is another wonderful story to tell, as I close. Many of you know the hymn, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton. The origin of this hymn finds itself in a remarkable deliverance from a violent storm at sea. John Newton, on the 10th of March 1748, found himself en route back to Liverpool, as his ship, the Greyhound, encountered a violent storm off the coast of Ireland. She was relentlessly pounded by heavy seas for many days. She began to take on water. Newton, who was not yet a Christian pleaded with God to spare him and the crew. But the storm continued for a number of weeks, as the damaged vessel drifted helplessly and food supplies ran low.
Newton later wrote in his autobiography,
‘We saw the island of Tory and the next day anchored in Lough Swilly in Ireland. This was the 8th day of April, just four weeks after the damage we sustained from the sea. Then we came into this port, our very last victuals was boiling in the pot; and before we had been there two hours, the wind began to blow again with great violence. If we had continued at sea that night in our shattered condition, we must have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayers‘.
While her crew enjoyed the hospitality of the locals and local tradesmen set about repairing the Greyhound, Newton attended church at nearby Londonderry and it is thought that he penned the first verse of Amazing Grace while at Lough Swilly.
Amazing Grace! How Sweet the sound , hat saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see.
For the rest of his life, Newton marked March 10th as the date on which he was converted to Christianity.
 Windward is the direction upwind from the point of reference, alternatively the direction from which the wind is coming. Leeward is the direction downwind (or downward) from the point of reference.